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Northwest Development Agency

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 8 May 2003

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What recent discussions he has had with the north-west regional development agency on unemployment. [111891]

Treasury Ministers have met with members of regional development agencies and particularly value their input, but we have had no specific discussions recently with the Northwest Development Agency on unemployment.

Unemployment in my constituency has fallen dramatically in recent times, with one of the main driving forces for that being small businesses. Will the Chief Secretary comment on the work of the development agency in helping small businesses to develop broadband, which is vital to them? What measures can he put in place to support small businesses and help job creation?

My hon. Friend takes a real interest in small businesses and the work of his RDA. We particularly welcome the proposals coming from the Northwest Development Agency in relation to broadband infrastructure in Cumbria. Both sides of the House will welcome that, not least because of the concerning state of affairs exposed by the Countryside Agency a few days ago, which found that only 7 per cent. of rural villages and 1 per cent. of remote rural areas had access to affordable broadband internet connections. The NWDA is right to bring forward proposals and I hope that others will do likewise.

We, in the meantime, are assisting small businesses investing in information and communications technology, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in last month's Budget the extension of 100 per cent. first-year capital allowances for a further one year. That is the sort of help that small and medium-sized enterprises are getting under the Labour Government, and it is help that they never had when Opposition Members had stewardship of the economy.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Northwest Development Agency is doing tremendous work in developing the former Michelin site to provide employment in Burnley? It is important to encourage all investment in research and development and in manufacturing industry if we are to gain employment in towns such as Burnley.

My hon. Friend works hard in Burnley on employment issues, and he is absolutely right to point out the importance of investment in this area. He will appreciate the work on skills that the regional development agency is doing with local higher and further education institutions. He will know that employers are more likely to invest in areas such as Burnley when real efforts have been made to enhance the skills of the people who make up the labour market. That is happening, and it is good news for Burnley and the rest of the north-west.